Inspirational Food and Drink Events at the NEC 2022

A typical stand.

After nearly two years of lock down because of the COVID-19 it feels great to be allowed out again. This year the hot spot will be the food and drink events at the NEC 2022. The one event of note this spring was The Farm Shop & Deli Show, coupled with the Food & Drink Show and National Convenience Show. This took place over three days from the 25th to the 27th April With all three events taking place under the same roof at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham, it was good to meet up with old friends and see inspirational ideas on new food products. 

This year it seemed to be much bigger than in previous years. There was also lots to see in the way of small producers who have clearly been busy having a field day in the kitchen. Lots of wholesalers operating in the UK from mid-size to enormous were presenting their services extremely well. The national stands were well represented. Ireland and Wales had very strong presence and there was plenty to see on the Greek, Indonesian and Georgian platforms too. 

Baked Foods

If you like free baked products, then Warburtons would have fitted the bill. A large family bakery now with strong national presence emphasising the part they play in offering wrapped baked foods. It certainly is a diverse portfolio and the retailer must be very pleased with the range on offer. What did we place our beef burgers in? Warburtons’ sliced brioche burger buns of course. There is no messing about with the message – it is about convenience. We have yet to try the muffins and the bagels but I know we wont be disappointed. The muffins are excellent at soaking up egg yolk, fat from bacon etc. so no issues with these based on our past experiences. I can smell the sausages that wafted through the show now coming from the Welsh stands and these would have gone down well in those muffins. One bread that we don’t often try is the soft Tiger bloomer which has a traditional wheat and rice topping.

La Boulangerie offer prebaked and packaged breads making great play of their French roots. All these products are made in France and packaged for retail in modified atmosphere packaging or pre-baked so they can be ready after 10 minutes of heating. One of the more interesting baked goods are vegan croissants which use non-dairy fat, shea fat in this case. We would normally associate shea with the butter used in cosmetics but it makes a good ingredient alternative to natural dairy butter and other relatively hard fats. 

Beverages And Spirits

Beverages, which is one of those product groups of special interest to us are always well represented.

Rum is the new spirit, ripe for development and appears to be following the route that gin has taken where flavour variants are hitting the market shelves. Most producers either use imported cane molasses or straight cane sugar.

8Track spiced rum
c/o Amazon, 8Track.

We checked out 8Track Spiced Rum  (37.5% ABV)which blends Guyanan and Barbadian rum. The botanicals include various spices and botanicals that could be found in a gin such as Seville oranges, vanilla, cloves, ginger and cinnamon. It’s a well balanced slightly fruity mix with the rum allowed to come through. Other rum producers use their own copper stills to produce rum from molasses or sugarcane. Their experience with gin production helps in crafting the rum flavour.

Mercian Gin & Rum do this using their small 200 litre stills. It makes it a Midlands-first experience – the name says as much.

If you like popsicles for a hot day, especially those laced with plenty of alcohol then the ices from POP’D Ltd (Evesham, Worcs. UK) have that covered. One of the real thirst-quenching ices was their original Pimm’s which has summer flavours of lemonade, cucumber, strawberries and mint. Whilst this popsicle has a full, fruity flavour there is a distinctive Pimm’s note which evokes Henley Regatta but would be suited to  any summer occasion. The business also produces other cocktail ices with Martini (vodka & watermelon) and a Bellini (prosecco & peach) which also sit well with our salad days. 

Convenience is also served up with the Weetabix On The Go range who showed some breakfast drinks with energy, protein and fibre claims. Traditional flavours include banana and chocolate. The products is 250ml UHT processed milk with the ‘same amount of sugar as a glass of milk’. It has a shelf-life of 9 months using wheat fibre (1.5%). The sensory feel is smooth without too much detectable fibre feel. All the protein is dairy based. Would be interesting to know how it would measure up with the new AOAC dietary fibre measurement methods that exist in the USA for example.

The fruit juice producers were many and varied. We liked the range of apple juices on offer from Maynard House (Suffolk). This is a family owned apple pressing business. Many are single-variety apple juices with additions of other fruits to generate points of difference. The clear favourite was Bramley apple which had a darker, slightly bitter and cooked note and compared well with the Cox & Bramley which relied on the sweeter notes. The packaging is glass, in 750ml in-pack pasteurised or 200ml/240ml bottles with screw-top caps. The addition of cranberry gave the apple a slightly red fruit drying note.

Aloe vera is still associated more with soothing skin lotions but it also makes a different flavour  base for drinks. The flavour has a typical bitterness which matches the image of the plant as a sap with curative properties. OKF Corp. (Seoul, Korea) offered some low energy (presumably low calorie) Aloe vera products in 500ml PET. Presumably hot-filled looking at the packaging (500ml) and with flavours including pumpkin. One interesting packaging feature – a clear can for their Sparkling Lemon (350ml). The product itself had a clean spritzy, powdery lemon note more reminiscent of lemon verbena and a top note of grapefruit seed extract which adds dryness. The sweetener is sucralose.  Would be ideal refreshment for hot summer days.

Energy drinks were on view in all shapes and sizes although the slimline 250ml can is extremely popular and rivalled the 330ml in sheer numbers. Most were pleasant enough fruit juices based drinks with B vitamin claims.

One stand out drink. Try Mango Go! (Mangogo Ltd., Sheffield) as it has a distinctively rich and refreshing tropical fruit note with guarana and caffeine sourced from green coffee beans. The caffeine content is claimed to be as much as a standard cup of coffee. No other claims other than vitamin C and no mention of B vitamins.  The calorie content per serve is 80 Calories.

Sauces

Pesto would not have been my first thought for seaweed but the Wick based business SHØRE – The Scottish Seaweed Co. (New Wave Foods Ltd. Alness. Highlands. Scotland) have created a range of sauces for pastas as well as for coating bruschetta or as a dip. It allows the saltiness of the seaweed (36g) to come through. The key claims are gluten and GMO free but also vegan and because it’s seaweed, high in iodine.

Seaweed comes in many forms and different types lend a particular level of versatility. Dulse seaweed has a rich red colour which works well in tomato and other dark coloured sauces. Wakame on the other hand is ideal in green sauces. SHØRE are very fervent that the waters of out most northerly parts of the UK contain seaweed of outstanding quality and such an underutilised source of food.  The producers use a vegan form of pecorino cheese. A remarkable range of flavours was evident and it this works well with plain water biscuits and crackers. Not so much with other salty biscuits.  Flavours in the pesto range include Italian Basil and Seaweed, Italian Black Kale and Seaweed, Red pepper and Dulse Seaweed. The tapenades include Green Olive and Wakame Seaweed, and Black Olive and Dulse Seaweed.  

Snack Foods

Snack foods, from crisps and crackers through to nuts and sprinkles for snacks were all well represented. There is no shortage of product development here. SHØRE also have a range of crisps that make use of seaweed in their flavour profile. The standard ‘lightly salted‘ variant allows the seaweed nots to come through most strongly. If you like spicier flavours which would work well with the saltiness then Peking Duck and Sweet Sriracha would be your product line. These must be good as they have won a World Food Innovation Award 2021.

 

Shore seaweed crisps
c/o Amazon, New Wave Foods Ltd.

Ireland offers crisps too and the family business of  Keoghs praise the potato going as far as to name the variety and field too. You can see on the web-site where those crisps have come from.  They too are no slouches with flavour either. A delightfully savoury Shamrock and sour cream goes down well. Try in the straight crisp range their Irish Atlantic Sea Salt,  Atlantic Sea Salt and Irish Cider Vinegar, Chorizo and Cherry Tomato, Sweet Chilli and for Xmas, Roast Turkey and Secret Stuffing. The Truffle and Real Irish Butter is also worth a punt.

Keogh's Irish Atlantic Sea Salt Potato Crisps, 125g
c/o Amazon, Keoghs

Ready Meals

Noodles are ideal for satiety as well providing the opportunity to add novel and interesting ingredients. BOLfoods are all about being 100% plant-based as well as coaxing us in with their Asian street food concept. They showed amongst a variety of offers,  Posh Noodles in a 345g tub suited to microwaving. The offer is ideal for lunchtime and fits perfectly with mid-week meals. It competes well with hard noodle products which need added boiling water. Convenience comes in the form of added vegetables. Flavours that are enjoyed include Korean Sweet Chilli Ramen, Creamy Malaysian Laksa Ramen, Aromatic Thai Charcoal Ramen, Sweet & Sticky Teryaki Udon and there will be further additions no doubt. These are all popular flavours with slight twists.  The Korean ramen had a particularly delicious Gochujang chilli sauce as well as added fresh vegetables such as kale, red cabbage and pak choi and legumes in the form of paprika flavoured chickpeas. When you think of Japanese street stalls then yakisoba is your bag. This moreish offer had turmeric noodles with spicy sweet potato, juicy sweetcorn and lots of greens. It’s a neat offer for anyone on the go and a good fit for any of us venturing back into the work office as well as scoffing as we write this article!

Ingredients

Brusco Food Group based in Evesham were showcasing  Smart Salt® as a seasoning for popcorn but this has many other applications too in soups, snack foods and ready meals. Based on a Finnish patent, the ingredient would work well with those producing reduced salt formulations.

Packaging

packaging is extremely importnat in preswerving food and drinsk as well as presenting vital information about a product. Add to that the need to protect the planet and we see lots of recyclable and re-usable packaging. A couple come to mind. The City Bottle is part of the ‘Jointhepipe‘ movement and comes from the longest water pipe in the world. A reusable bottle in white with a very attractive feel becomes of the tressellated cylinder. What’s interesting is that the whole container is made of sugar cane. I know purists who like aluminium would argue that sugar cane still requires agricultural resource and could be the next palm oil issue but it still represents a move in the right direction of using natural, not-dug-out-of- ground resources. If you do like aluminium then Re:Water (Marden, Hereford. UK) have a 100% recyclable bottle which in this instance contained still spring water from Berrington, Hereford. 

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